The thousands of metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from power plants each year doesn't have to go into the atmosphere. Researchers are optimistic that within the next decade we will be able to affordably capture CO2 waste and convert it into useful molecules for feedstock, biofuels, pharmaceuticals, or renewable fuels. On March 29 in the journal Joule, a team of Canadian and US scientists describe their vision for what we should make with CO2 and how we can make it.

"Similar to how a plant takes carbon dioxide, sunlight, and water to make sugars for itself, we are interested in using technology to take energy from the sun or other renewable sources to convert CO2 into small building block molecules which can then be upgraded using traditional means of chemistry for commercial use," says Phil De Luna, a PhD candidate in materials science. "We're taking inspiration from nature and doing it faster and more efficiently."

De Luna is first author on the paper along with postdoctoral fellow Oleksandr Bushuyev, both of whom are members of the Edward Sargent Lab at the University of Toronto. Sargent, the senior author, is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Their analysis identified a series of possible small molecules that make economic sense and could be made by converting captured CO2. For energy storage needs, hydrogen, methane, and ethane could be used in biofuels. Additionally, ethylene and ethanol could serve as the building blocks for a range of consumer goods, and CO2-derived formic acid could be used by the pharmaceutical industry or as a fuel in fuel cells.

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